IDF strikes Gaza targets after rocket fire in south, central Israel

Illustrative: Flames are seen following an Israeli air strike in the town of Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, October 20, 2020. (Said Khatib / AFP)

Israeli jets, helicopters, and tanks carried out predawn raids in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, hours after Palestinian terrorists in the coastal enclave fired two rockets at southern and central Israel, the military said.

The strikes targeted “underground infrastructure and military posts of the terror group Hamas in the Gaza Strip,” according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Earlier, the army said one of the rockets fired around 2 a.m. triggered sirens in Ashdod and the Shfela region of central Israel. The other rocket fell outside of Ashdod city limits and set off no alarms.

The Iron Dome defense system acted to intercept the rockets “in accordance with our procedures,” the army said. The IDF stopped short of saying the interceptions were successful.

The rocket sirens sent thousands rushing for shelter, as residents of towns south of Tel Aviv reported hearing powerful explosions.

There were no reports of injuries or damage.

The rocket fire came days after the one-year anniversary of the killing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu al-Ata.

Abu al-Ata’s death on November 12, 2019 sparked a fierce round of fighting known in the military as Operation Black Belt. Last week also marked the anniversary of an IDF intelligence operation that went awry on November 11, 2018. That operation lead to a large exchange of fire between Israel and terror groups in the Strip, as well as a major, week-long campaign against Hamas in November 2018, known as Operation Pillar of Defense.

The IDF went on heightened alert Wednesday, sending additional air defenses to southern Israel, ahead of the anniversary. More Iron Dome missile defense batteries deployed to the south. Also, flights into and out of Israel used Ben Gurion International Airport’s northern paths, keeping them farther from the Gaza Strip.

These changes in air traffic routes — visible with civilian flight path tracking software —  generally occur when there is active fighting or expectations of it. A spokesperson for the Israel Airports Authority did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter.

Abu al-Ata was a prominent member of the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, the commander of the Al-Quds Brigades’ units in the northern Gaza Strip. The IDF believed he was personally responsible for many attacks against Israel in the months before his death.

The IDF killed him, along with his wife, in a precision strike, following months of preparation. The IAF fired a missile on the apartment in which he was staying in Gaza City’s Shejaiya neighborhood.

Palestinian terror groups often carry out attacks on the anniversaries of such conflicts.

Though Israel is holding ongoing talks with the Hamas terror group regarding a long-term ceasefire agreement, recent weeks have seen an uptick in violence emanating from Gaza.

Two weeks ago, a drone flew from the Strip into Israeli airspace before the IDF shot it down. The week before saw a rocket attack from the Strip against the Israeli city of Ashkelon. One projectile was intercepted, the other landed in an open field.

Last month, the IDF also uncovered what it said was a Hamas attack tunnel dug from Gaza into Israel.

Israel has fought three large campaigns against terror groups in the Strip since Hamas took control of the area in 2007, along with dozens of smaller exchanges of fire.

(Times of Israel),

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